FRANKFORT — Democrat Todd Hollenbach, not yet sure what he's going to do after his term as state treasurer ends in December, says that his post is critical to Kentuckians and that his leadership has saved the state millions of dollars.
Republican Jon Larson of Lexington disagrees.
The office of state treasurer is not needed and should be abolished, says Larson, one of eight candidates — five Democrats and three Republican — running this year to replace Hollenbach.
That race has more candidates than any other state constitutional office up for election. Hollenbach, of Louisville, cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
Larson, an attorney, has experience in trying to abolish what he says are unnecessary constitutional offices.
He is continuing to try to do away with the office of Fayette County judge-executive, a position he held for four years before his term ended last December.
He was paid about $9,000 a year in a job that was left with little power when Lexington and Fayette County governments merged in 1974.
The office of state treasurer pays more — $115,594 a year. That's the same pay the lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and secretary of state get. The governor's annual salary is $135,970.
Duties of the state treasurer, under the law, include heading the state treasury, managing the state's depository, making records of all monies due and payable to the state, processing warrants from the Finance and Administration Cabinet, making payments on behalf of the state and filing an annual report on all state money.
Kentucky has had a treasurer since it became a state in 1792, but talk about abolishing the office has picked up in recent years.
Hollenbach's Republican opponent in 2007, former Administrative Office of the Courts director Melinda Wheeler, campaigned on that platform but lost the race by 15 percentage points.
The Republican-led state Senate has tried several times to abolish the office, but the Democratic-controlled House has balked.
Twelve states do not elect a treasurer. Of the 38 that do, Kentucky pays its treasurer more than 31 of them.
State treasurer is the smallest constitutional office in Kentucky, with an annual budget of about $3 million.
The office of the treasurer should be transferred to the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, Larson says.
"Given the way the modern Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet functions — with bonding, double accounting and IT systems control — there is no longer a need for a treasurer to oversee the state's monies," Larson said.
He noted that Kentuckians have eliminated other constitutional offices, mentioning superintendent of public instruction, railroad commissioners and registrar of the land office.
Downsizing can save the state millions of dollars, Larson claims.
Hollenbach, an attorney whose father, Todd Hollenbach Sr., is a former Jefferson County judge-executive, said he does not understand why anyone would think about abolishing the office of state treasurer.
"The treasurer's primary job is to jealously safeguard the integrity of the state treasury, and I have done that and more," Hollenbach said in a recent interview.
"You can do a lot of good in this office if you want to be an active state treasurer."
Hollenbach's claims of leadership include helping save taxpayers $103.2 million through the national financial crisis as vice chairman of the State Investment Commission.
The commission, attached to the Finance and Administration Cabinet, invests public funds to maximize safety of principal liquidity and yield, while minimizing risk.
As a member of the state lottery board, Hollenbach claims he helped engineer the adoption of Keno games and Internet lottery sales, creating about $86 million a year for the state.
But critics of the office like Larson say Hollenbach performed these actions as a board member, a task they argue that the Finance and Administration Cabinet could designate someone to handle.
"I want to thank Todd for working with these boards," Larson said.
As treasurer, Hollenbach also oversees the Unclaimed Property Division.
It tries to link rightful owners with unclaimed property that ranges from rare coins and fine jewelry to abandoned savings and checking accounts that have been turned over to the state from various financial institutions, usually after three years.
Hollenbach has been aggressive in handling unclaimed property by using technology to find owners and initiating a "120 in 120" project.
The goal of the project is to conduct a "Treasure Finders" event of unclaimed property in all 120 Kentucky counties and return $120 million in unclaimed property to the rightful owners.
That would be more than the work of all previous state treasurers combined, said Mark Pfeiffer, who runs the program for Hollenbach.
So far, the treasurer has returned more than $107 million, according to the office's website.
"Again, that job could be transferred to the Finance Cabinet, which might do it even better," said Larson.
Hollenbach said he is proud of what he has accomplished as state treasurer. "I love this job and maybe would have run again for it if I could. I'm afraid some people just don't understand the importance of this job," he said.